What does accountability actually mean?


People being more accountable, in my experience, is one of the top 3 outcomes that executives want from their leaders and any leadership development programme. But do they know what they are actually asking for?

What accountability actually means to most organisations is meeting targets or budgets or cutting staff when the market turns bad or when they are not performing. Of course, these are possible outcomes and measures of accountability, but they do not create the world or culture of accountability that underpins high performance. For a good reference on the world of accountability read Greg Bustin’s book Accountability: The key to driving a high performance culture’.

Accountability starts with a worldview, a place to think from, create from, shape behaviour and responses to what comes up every day. This view is the source of accountability and if you are not clear what accountability actually means, you will not have an accountable organisation.

This worldview includes –

    • Responsibility – the capacity to look at how I how I have contributed to effective and ineffective outcomes rather than blame something else.
    • Integrity – the understanding that there is an underlying design to what has things work and if you manage from that design, results will follow.
    • Authenticity – that what you say has no credibility unless it’s backed up by your actions and behaviour. Honouring and respecting your word and the word of others has us relate to agreements, promises, commitments and requests as important and taken seriously. Walking the talk creates trust, credibility, engagement, alignment, productivity.
    • Courage – acknowledging that we all have blind spots, weaknesses, we make mistakes and there is always a gap between who we are and who we could be. A desire to develop ourselves, to increase our capacity to make a difference and contribute. Accountability requires leaders to continuously learn, grow and develop to be accountable for everything that comes at them.

Once the leaders have formulated their worldview of accountability, then there is the management of accountability. This is the subject of another post as it would take me much longer than most people have that read my posts, however, here is an example of what I mean.

At Hewsons, we are transitioning to a new office manager. I have invested a significant amount of time to make sure that our expectations are clearly outlined, including what the job involves, our values and behaviours that relate to that position and a comprehensive handover/training for the new person so they are prepared to do the job.

I’ll discuss the above with the person accountable for this role, include their requirements, resolve any concerns or questions and then align on how that person will do this job and how they will behave whilst doing this job. My management of that role will then be consistent with those agreements and I will provide positive and negative feedback as required.

If you have not set up your people so that they can operate accountably, you do not have an accountable worldview and you will not have accountable people.

So when you say accountability is important, what exactly do you mean?

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